While a student at the Kingswood School on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Florence Knoll Bassett (née Schust) became a protegée of Eero Saarinen. She studied architecture at Cranbrook, the Architectural Association in London and the Armour Institute (Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago). She worked briefly for Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Wallace K. Harrison. In 1946, she became a full business and design partner and married Hans Knoll, after which they formed Knoll Associates. She was at once a champion of world-class architects and designers and an exceptional architect in her own right.
As a pioneer of the Knoll Planning Unit, she revolutionized interior space planning. Her belief in "total design" – embracing architecture, manufacturing, interior design, textiles, graphics, advertising and presentation – and her application of design principles in solving space problems were radical departures from the standard practice in the 1950s, but were quickly adopted and remain widely used today. For her extraordinary contributions to architecture and design, Florence Knoll was accorded the National Endowment for the Arts' prestigious 2002 National Medal of Arts.
Florence Knoll stated that she was not a furniture designer, perhaps because she didn’t want her furniture pieces to be viewed on their own, but rather as an element of her holistic interior design. Knoll only designed furniture when the existing pieces in the Knoll collection didn’t meet her needs. Almost half of the furniture pieces in the Knoll collection were her designs including tables, desks, chairs, sofas, benches and stools. She designed furniture not only to be functional, but also to designate the way she wanted the interior space to function as well as relating to the architecture of the space and the overall composition. This was inevitably part of her concept for ‘total design’ where she aspired to work in a broad range of design fields including architecture, manufacturing, interior design, textiles, graphics, advertising and presentation.
The distinctive features of Florence Knoll’s furniture designs were the sleek silhouettes and geometries. This reflected her architectural training and interests. Her furniture was designed with the notion of transforming architecture into furniture, which she achieved by translating the structure and language of the modern building into a human-scaled object. An ideal example of this is her 2544 credenza, which was a marble topped, rectangular case with metal legs. Its structure was clearly influenced by the Mies’ Seagram Building and Corbusian columns. She mostly kept the upholstery colour palate in black, brown and beige to let the vibrant colours and rich textures in the interior spaces remain the focus (some pieces did come in bright red).